BusinessDesk report by Pattrick Smellie
The Wellington City Council appears close to signing a heads of agreement with the Hilton hotel chain and local property developer Mark Dunajtschik for a $125 million convention centre on the waterfront opposite Te Papa.
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown issued a statement saying the convention centre and five-star hotel project would involve “no capital investment or construction risk for the city”, although the council’s economic development committee chair, Jo Coughlan, told BusinessDesk the convention centre was likely to require a three-year council subsidy.
The Hilton would not commit to the hotel project without a convention centre being part of the deal and, subject to a business plan being satisfactorily finalised, would be willing to subsidise the centre’s operations in the initial stages.
“It doesn’t require any government funding and would be up and running by 2017,” said Coughlan. “That means it would be on board before potentially Christchurch, Auckland and Queenstown, so that mitigates the risk of the other three coming on stream.”
Wellington already holds the second largest number of conventions in the country, but its “niche” offering at present would be markedly expanded by the proposed development, on bare land once owned by Railways Corp. and sold into private ownership in the 1990’s. It has housed car yards and been a parking lot in recent years.
“The non-controversial location means resource consent is not required to be notified,” said Wade-Brown in a statement, which noted also that the development would not require a casino for its viability, unlike the Auckland convention centre, which is being developed by SkyCity Entertainment Group in a controversial deal with the government which will allow it additional gaming machines in return.
A full business case will be presented to the Wellington City Council in late June for final decisions.
Dunajtschik is a controversial local figure because of his recent opposition and court action to try to prevent being forced to preserve the historic Harcourt’s building in Wellington’s central business district.